Michael Wolraich's picture

    The End of the Glenn Beck Story

    You'll notice a pattern in all stories: There are three kinds of characters: heroes, villains and there but for the grace of God go I.

    -- Glenn Beck

    Glenn Beck started strong. After joining Fox News on the eve of President Obama's inauguration, he quickly built an audience of two million viewers per night, particularly impressive for a 5:00 p.m. timeslot. The New York Times heralded Fox News's "mad, apocalyptic, tearful rising star." Time magazine featured Beck's protruding tongue on its cover. Television audiences rated him their favorite TV personality after Oprah Winfrey.

    In the mold of America's greatest demagogues, Beck built his popularity on fear. He told chilling stories of 1960s radicals plotting with union leaders, environmentalists, and a radical black president to devour the country from within. Once America had been reduced to a shell, the conspirators would decree emergency powers and establish an Orwellian dictatorship in which "real Americans" lived in poverty and oppression, thereby fulfilling the aspirations of the twentieth century's greatest villain, Woodrow Wilson.

    When your career is based on scare tactics, you have to keep developing the narrative. Your audience demands fresh twists and new villains who are even more monstrous. As a result, demagogues often fallen into a common trap. They extend their imaginary webs of conspiracy ever wider until they alienate too many powerful people.

    Father Charles Coughlin, a Depression-era Catholic priest who preached anti-Semitic paranoia on the radio, implicated the Roosevelt administration in his conspiracy theories and consequently lost his radio show. Senator Joseph McCarthy disgraced himself in the eyes of the country when he vilified U.S. Army officers. Robert Welch, founder of the anti-communist John Birch Society, attracted the scorn of conservatives when he accused former President Eisenhower of treason.

    In 2010, Glenn Beck's ratings began to slip. His stories had become monotonous. His audience was drifting. So Beck chose a new villain for his conspiracy narrative, the Jewish billionaire George Soros.

    Soros must have seemed like an easy target. Republicans' made him their favorite bogeyman after he publicly campaigned against President George W. Bush's reelection in 2004. Prominent conservatives like Fox News host Bill O'Reilly and former majority leader Tom DeLay took turns accusing Soros of various plots from the war on Christmas to Congressional ethics investigations.

    But Beck pursued anti-Sorosism with a level of zeal and imagination unmatched by his fellow conservatives. His placement of a rich Jewish financier at the center of fantastical plots to take over the world bore too much resemblance to the old Jewish conspiracy theories of Father Coughlin's day. Beck's programs soon drew charges of anti-Semitism, a serious transgression even on Fox News.

    In January 2011, four hundred rabbis signed an open letter in the Washington Post condemning Beck's show. In response, Beck compared America's Reform rabbis to Islamic radicals, which earned him no affection in the Jewish community. After a storm of protest, Beck apologized, telling his audience, "You have to guard your honor and your integrity because people have to be able to believe you."

    But it was too late for that. Like bursting stock market bubbles, disgraced demagogues tend to fall swiftly. Conservative journalists who had long avoided the subject of Beck's doomsday routine began to criticize his conspiracy theories as "offensive," "hysterical," and "disturbing." Prominent Republicans reportedly confronted Fox owner Rupert Murdoch and Fox News president Roger Ailes about the potential embarrassment that Beck might create for the party. Within weeks, Fox News announced, "Glenn intends to transition off of his daily program." On June 30, Beck aired the last Fox News installment of his grand conspiracy saga.

    The question is, why did they wait so long? Beck's rambling did not suddenly become offensive, hysterical, and disturbing in 2011. He has been embarrassing the Republican Party for three years straight. Yet few conservatives objected when Beck called Obama a racist who hated white people, when he promoted McCarthy-esque witch-hunts against government officials, or when he speculated that the White House was plotting a communist revolution.

    Many Republicans saw Beck as a useful instrument for galvanizing opposition to President Obama. Others were afraid to pay the political cost of confronting him.

    But there is something else. Had Beck hurled the N-word or dressed in white robes, conservatives would have competed to out-condemn him, but the goofy, self-deprecating Mr. Beck did not fit the model of a dangerous bigot. Many people across the political spectrum dismissed him as a harmless entertainer or a clown.

    Yet this charming clown was far more dangerous than any snarling caricature of bigotry. Beck is a man who can reach inside human beings to coax their darkest urges to the surface. Like Coughlin, McCarthy, and Welch, he plays on fear to unlock our repressed hatreds.

    History abounds with men like these. Most flare and burn out with little trace. A few endowed with great talent and favorable conditions have shaped their fearful followers into potent forces of cruelty. Demagogues like Hitler and Radovan Karadzic assume monstrous proportions in historical memory, but they began much like Beck--charismatic crackpots who told tales of secret plots by powerful villains.

    Glenn Beck never came close to such heights of power, but for a time, he had more influence in America then any serious conspiracy theorist since Joe McCarthy. That he produced no lasting damage is a testament to our country's resistance to the pathology of fear.

    Times change, however. The next time someone like Beck casts his shadow over the country, we may prove more vulnerable to such persuasions.

    There but for the grace of God go we.

    Michael Wolraich (@wolraich) is the author of Blowing Smoke: Why the Right Keeps Serving Up Whack-Job Fantasies about the Plot to Euthanize Grandma, Outlaw Christmas, and Turn Junior into a Raging Homosexual.



    Times change, however. The next time someone like Beck casts his shadow over the country, we may prove more vulnerable to such persuasions.

    The next time?

    Beck won.   His shadow is still over America.  The House of Representatives is being run by the disciples of Beck, and they are setting the national agenda.   All the Soros incident proved to them is that if you're a right-wing radical you have to be more discreet about what you say publicly.

    There are adherents to Beck's form of paranoia in Congress. Michele Bachmann is one. But they don't run the show nor set the national agenda. Many of Beck's disciples are even more frustrated with Congress than you are.

    They might be frustrated, but their anti-social, anti-government, radical individualistic nihilism is still setting the agenda.  Paul Ryan is Glenn Beck with a prettier smile and slightly better emotional control.  He and his friends keep more of their emotions close to the vest, instead of blubbering them all out all over a desk in a television studio.  But they all come from the same place.

    Demagoguery and paranoia are not political positions, and they can infect the left as easily as the right.

    Beck's politics may jive with Paul Ryan's, but the exploitation of fear and hatred that I'm writing about has more in common with Stalin and Mao than Ryan and Boehner.

    I think Beck just says out loud what the elected right-wingers think, but have the discipline not to say other than by means of dog whistle.

    Beck doesn't simply voice opinions. I think that's what many people misunderstand about him. He tells stories. That's the secret of his seduction, what makes him dangerous. You can't dog-whistle stories.

    Sure he's a story-teller, but how are the stories he tells any different than the stories the rank and file of the 2011 Republican Party already believe?  Beck got a little bit too blunt and loose-lipped in public about the worldview, and so he became a nuisance and liability to the right.  They moved quickly to discredit him and disembarrass themselves of him.   They're smarter and cannier than he is politically.   But they still hold the same worldview.

    What I don't like in the tone of this piece is the idea that winds through it that because Beck is gone we are somehow at the end of an era and have turned the corner away from the worst.  Personally, I feel like I am living in the middle of the most disturbing period of American history I have experienced in my lifetime, a period that is transpiring right now.  I can't believe what I'm seeing and hearing every day, from all sides.  The strong and victorious are waging open war against the weak and defeated.   And they are no longer ashamed to acknowledge it.

    On the right, the Social Darwinists, the Birchers, the Norquistians - they have all won.  Their ideas have become mainline religion among Republicans and have even silenced and subdued the most prominent Democrats.  The  leadership of the Democratic Party is now Hooverite and the mainstream Republicans are now Birchers.  It's a living nightmare - like some dystopian fantasy novel of a post-civilized capitalist cultural apocalypse.   But it's actually happening.   There are still plenty of good people out here.  But they don't seem to have any support in the halls of power - not anywhere.  The words I hear coming out of the mouths of top Democratic leaders are unrecognizable and dissonant to me; the blank nothingness of Stepford politicians with no emotional resonance, suppressed outrage or acute revulsion toward injustice of any kind.  Abject, colonized drivel.

    Based to some extent on their words, but more directly on behavior that speaks louder and more articulately than words, it seems to me that almost everyone in charge now, in both parties, is of the opinion that the poor are mainly revolting and disposable; the unemployed are contemptible, lazy and forgettable; the debt-ridden are parasitical wastrels who must be punished; artists are space-wasting emo sponges; union members are thick-headed dinosaur bullies headed for extinction; the old should get busy saving and dying and stop asking for so much retirement security; and a worker is a stupid and uneducated lout who deserves his increasingly crappy life either because he didn't have the good sense to get himself educated, or because the gods of evolution did not favor him with the genes that qualify one for the elect.  There is one thing Democratic and Republican power brokers clearly all agree on when it comes to workers: They are so f-ing happy that they are not one of those slobs!  "Whew!  I'm so glad I am one of the prosperous, well-educated, beautiful people, governing by divine right along with my peers in the other party, and not one of the ugly and revolting poor or unemployed!"

    All of the members of the clever and successful set in the US and Europe, who were marked for passover when God sent the Angel of Recession to smite the lives of everyone else, are now apparently convinced that government is too big and too bloated, and are busy at work with the owners of capital in dismantling it, privatizing it, and selling off pieces of it.   They are disposing of the hard-won conquests of armies of progressive heroes of the left - and can only disagree about whether to do the deed faster or slower, a little at a time or all at once.   Even the people who are defending the gasping social programs can't seem to articulate the principles and moral beliefs and emotional commitments behind their defense.  It's like they are defending them only out of inertia, or some unwelcome and onerous duty.   Barack Obama acts like the executor of some run-down estate bequeathed to him by an ancestor he never really liked in the first place.

    Everything has been getting consistently worse for at least 15 years now.    It's worse now than it was in 2009, when Beck was in his glory.    And it was worse in 2009 than it was during the Bush administration.   For one thing, although Bush was conservative on economic policy, he couldn't hold a candle to the current gang of government-destroying radicals running the House.  For another thing, even when Bush was in charge there was a strong spirit of progressive resistance.  Now that spirit seems almost dead and extinguished, and the elite power class of the Democratic Party seems to have abandoned it entirely.  Egalitarian progressives are running out of places to turn within the established power structures.   And that is both disturbing and dangerous.

    The degenerate and self-destructive capitalism practice in this country indicted itself before all the world by setting off an implosion unsustainable Ponzi lending and greedy racketeering in the heart of our financial system.  And yet, nothing really happens.   A Democratic President handed the agenda for second half of his first term over to the same corporate and financial bosses who blew up the economy, bowing and scraping and apologizing for even daring to spend a few months slapping them on the wrist.  You want to defraud and pillage mortgage-holders?  Go ahead.   You want to pay yourselves even more for blowing up bubbles and popping them as you loot rents from the shrinking incomes of the bottom 90%.  That's the American way - we won't stop you.

    Now the former Democratic president is out hustling up cash from the Davos and Aspen crowd for his elitist "global initiative" by telling us that corporate wealth is overtaxed.

    I don't think that you get what Beck's about. Did you ever watch his show? His stories are crazy--paranoid fantasies about secret revolutionary plots at the highest levels of government. The politics are almost incidental. To Beck, socialism and fascism blur together in an Orwellian nightmare.

    There's a connection between the paranoid right and Republicans of course. Beck exploits Republican ideology, and Republicans exploit Beck's paranoia, but they're uncomfortable allies. The establishment Republicans are looking over their shoulders as the Tea Parties rev their engines for the 2012 primaries.

    But while the paranoid right lives on with or without Beck, I do not believe that it remains as potent as it was in 2010. That doesn't solve our political problems. Republicans are still extremely conservative, and Democrats are still moderately conservative. But the hateful paranoia is waning...for the moment. That's what this article is about.

    And at the very least, Fox News has one less asshole. That's worth celebrating in my book.

    Did you ever watch his show? His stories are crazy--paranoid fantasies about secret revolutionary plots at the highest levels of government.

    Did you every talk to a regular rank-and-file Republican when he was a little drunk, or having a bad day?

    You define your drunk Republican by his political affiliation. By why not his drunkenness? Or his paranoia? His religion? His skin color?

    Or have you spoken to a representative sample of drunk rank-and-file Republicans which would enable you to interpolate across the party? What's the percentage? How does it compare with Democrats?

    I'm well aware that paranoia runs rampant on the right, more than at any time since the 1950s, but that doesn't mean that all Republicans are closeted paranoiacs.


    I have talked to enough of them to believe that almost all of them believe we are in politically "fallen" state, and believe in one or more variants of a family of conspiracy theories or myths that explain to their personal satisfaction how the fall occurred.  To satisfy them, the theory must always explain how the government became an effectively foreign state, run by people who are not real Americans in some way, and organized to replace the true American philosophy of freedom and self-reliance by an evil authoritarian welfare state, designed to steal the wealth of hard-working white people, and transfer it to the lazy, drug-addicted and degenerate masses of black and brownish parasites who languish under non-American religions and ideologies, and pilfer the productive output of their more industrious, intelligent and righteous betters.

    Since it is part of the story that the hordes of the inferior have successfully stolen the state from the righteous ranks of the morally and intellectually superior, one component of the story has to explain how this was possible.   They must have been assisted by some socially powerful agency.   That's where you get either: globally connected Jewish bankers, the UN, international communism, international labor, the fraternal brotherhood of America-hating academics or a combination of some or all of the above.

    Beck is an emotionally disturbed man, so he blubbers his conspiracy theories and nightmares out quite freely.   But the same theories are boiling under the hats of almost all rank-and-file Republicans in what now defines the party's mainstream.  You just have to get them drunk or push their buttons in the right way, or figure out how to overhear them when they are not being guarded, and out it comes.

    Thanks Dan. I'm somewhat familiar with right-wing conspiracy theories. I can recommend an excellent book on it if you're interested. ;)

    Blowing Smoke investigates the history of how these ideas moved from a fringe element of the Republican Party to its most powerful political block. I do not underplay their popularity or significance, nor the role of people like Glenn Beck in promoting them. And no, they won't disappear with Beck's absence.

    Nonetheless, though the ideas are widespread, they do not pervade all rank-and-file Republicans--unless you simply define rank-and-file by those people who buy into them. And they're not very popular among the Republican political establishment, though they have been happy to exploit them for political gain. There are various polls that show certain paranoid beliefs like birtherism extend to as many has half of Republicans, but the hardcore stuff that Beck promotes makes up a smaller share.

    Nonetheless, though the ideas are widespread, they do not pervade all rank-and-file Republicans--unless you simply define rank-and-file by those people who buy into them. And they're not very popular among the Republican political establishment, though they have been happy to exploit them for political gain.

    Baggers are a bit equivalent to the values voters and religious right of "old." Great foot soldiers. Great emotion and juice providers. But ultimately regarded as unbalanced rubes by the Republican establishment. Boehner knows he owes his Speakership to the Baggers, but he also knows he could easily lose it because of the Baggers.

    Even some Baggers have become afraid of their own product. Forget who now, but one leader of Bagger Nation, maybe down in FL, said they needed to back away from Ryan's dismantling of Medicare because it could lead to defeat.

    It's easy to be brave and bold when you're out of office. But as soon as you win, you immediately feel you have to defend your perch.

    I've experienced this on FB where, suddenly, in the middle of the "conversation," the reasonable-sounding conservative will suddenly inveigh against the lazy, ignorant, lay-abouts who have lost their will to work, the moral imperative to work, and have instead curled up into a fetal ball to wait for the welfare state to take care of them. There's a whole moral element to the argument, a belief that the unemployed are, at bottom, decadent.

    ... and that the employed speaker is not.

    Is this even news? Seriously? All the author has done is resort to accusations, name calling, assumptions, and "what could have been." I'm an engineering major and I HATE English, but even I can spot a poorly written article when I see one (and that's an insult to poorly written articles). If you're going to criticize Beck, please do so fairly. He has been correct on many accounts (Van Jones, Greece, the crisises in the middle east, etc). I'm not saying the guy is right on absolutely everything, but you cannot deny what he has been right on simply because his politics are different. Most of the stuff he talks about have very little to do with whether or not you're a Republican or Democrat. I'm a Libertarian, but even I take everything with a grain of salt.

    You misunderstand me. Beck is a brilliant analyst of world affairs. Thank goodness he got Obama to dump Van Jones before the Progressives succeeded in their evil plot to foment a socialist revolution under the pretense of promoting green jobs.

    Good luck with your engineering studies. We need more sharp young minds like yours to preserve our national infrastructure.


    References needed on that part, 'analyst' of world affairs. Beck may be brilliant at rabble rousing the ignorant and/or the bigoted of America, affirming and reinforcing their most delusional views of the world, but that's about it.

    I think your snark-O-meter is on the fritz. Send me $99.99 and I'll fix it for you. :)

    Great, more outsourcing ...

    Is this even a comment? Seriously? All the commenter has done is resort to accusations, name calling, assumptions, and "what could have been." I'm a blogger and I HATE reading, thinking and analyzing, but even I can spot a poorly written comment when I see one (and that's an insult to poorly written comments). If you're going to criticize Genghis, please do so fairly. He has been correct on many accounts (Van Jones, Van Damme, Van Gogh). I'm not saying the guy is right on absolutely everything, but you cannot deny what he has been right on simply because his politics are different. Most of the stuff he talks about have very little to do with whether or not you're a Republican or Democrat. I'm a Pastafarian, but even I take everything with a grain of salt (you should salt the water before you put the pasta in).


    Some would call that plagiarism


    Now my understanding is that Beckerhead is beginning his own web ref as it were or is it web riff or whatever....

    Beckerhead will charge so much a head and how else can a peasant get a head?

    uhhhh, now I understand that you have weight in this web thingy....can you get me discounted tickets or some such?

    I aint askin for any favors that I do not deserve.

    I am just asking if you could call your celeb friends and get me a special deal!

    Tell em I purchased extra gold or something.

    This man is truly a giant in his own mind.




    I mean where else can we find Mr. Jones live, on line so to speak?


    (hey you changed the decor on this stuff! I like it--so far! except the link embed is fucked up) what?


    See my other post. You can't put the youtube url in directly anymore. You have to copy and paste the embed code. It's under Share - Embed on the youtube page. That's the one draw back to this tool.

    Sorry, it's important to pay full price for Beck's subscriptions. He needs the money.


    do i need a phd or something like that.



    ooooooooooops. hahahahahahaha

    Richard, I don't know if Beck has one yet, but Rush Limbaugh, who is right on just about everything 100% of the time, has a deal where you can get him 24/7 for a small retainer. Nothing like keeping up with what's really going on out there.

    Maybe Beck will also allow you to send him money, maybe an "Adopt a Soldier" program like Rush has at the link. Just send a self confessed drug addict money and it supports the troops. So Kool huh!

    Libertarians on this page who voted for Bush ('The Decider'-how can you have true liberty without one?) and permanent war by the state may want to help out the troops too, spreading liberty and freedom, gettin' Saddam, and all that stuff..

    ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh fuckiit

    this was the only fucking code that worked.

    i quit


    Here's what you do:

    Go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oN07a7rh2mY.

    Click Share

    Click Embed

    Copy the following code which then appears:

    <iframe width="425" height="349" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/oN07a7rh2mY" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

    Come back to dag.

    Click the film strip icon in the rich text editor.

    Paste the youtube code you copied into the dialog box.

    Click OK.


    Why is the background image for the song "Ballad of a Thin Man," which was on the album Highway 61 Revisited, the cover from the album Bob Dylan?  Does Glenn Beck have anything to do with this?  What about Van Jones?

    Great questions. Wake up, America!

    Genghis, of course, displays his usual  prudence and does not tie Beck to the Tides Foundation Wannabe Shooter,  Genghis is correct?

    Been there...

    Beck's obsession with Tides in the context of the Oakland shooting was first pointed out by the blogger Michael Wolraich.


    It's not demagoguery to decree villainous the blind adherence to socialism (or, more generally, activist-progressivism) at any time. Beck may be past his TV prime, but the ideas he espoused will continue to put down the whole uncomely brood of big government "socialist-euphorians" as long as people breathe air.     -T Smithers

    Villianous, you say.  Thus, I take it you would have it that all those countries currently sportng governments with socialist ministers are villianous people, governed by villians, who have certainly ripped off the thrifty ruling class by brutally taxing their wealth.

    Countries are not villainous. In fact, they mean less and less over time... But any people who foist socialism upon an unwilling populous are best described as a villains (more specifically liars and thieves). enlightened

    If we democratically choose some version of socialism, or social democracy, will that be OK with you?

    "If we democratically choose some version of socialism, or social democracy, will that be OK with you?" -Dan Kervick

    I don't think the system of government matters. You could call what American democracy is now a "social democracy". None of it's okay though when special privileges are retained for those in power, or when the same standard isn't applied equally to everyone. Neither socialism nor capitalism delivers that. Beck has one thing right, you have to dream and to believe -- draw on something deeper than yourself.  And not to be overly mystical -- answers aren't strictly in the political ideology, things designed for expedience can be so impersonal, rash and ruthless as to defy reason. There are ideas and concepts that transcend the politics, ideas of truth. Those are OK with me. Everything else falls short.

    soocial  democracy

    Not unless you wanted Rosa Luxembourg to haunt you for perverting the name social democrat...


    Knowing Rosa like I do, she'd haunt smithers with a particularly ferocious passion. Watch your step, smithers.

    Softly, softly, don't frighten him away.  I'm fascinated.  He actually seems to believe that he has a coherent understanding of what socialism and socialists look like, and I've never actually met one of them before that was so profoundly delusional.  He merits some sudy..

    She's as dead as the ignorant leftist manifesto she ascribed to. 

    Under a democratic socialism, there would be no special privileges for the powerful and the  same standard would certainly be applied to everyone.

    "Under a democratic socialism, there would be no special privileges for the powerful and the  same standard would certainly be applied to everyone."

    Bologna, bologna, bologna... (One bologna is not enough for the ridiculousness of that statement!) The class system is never more pronounced than it is under socialism where the vast majority of people hold no power specific to their government, and a handful do. History is telling: When those systems fail (and /or become unpopular) the elitists running them go out kicking and screaming for the loss of position and GROSSLY_UNEQUAL power that was held.

    Actually, he has no ideas in the strict sense of the term.

    "Actually, he has no ideas in the strict sense of the term."   -Peter Schwartz

    You could argue the merits of the ideas, but it's naive to say he didn't have any. Glenn Beck was rolling out a new one every week, The 9/12 project, Restore 1791, etc... and I don't say I agree with the thrust of it... But you get my point.   -T Smithers

    Okay, but "they" ain't putting no brood of anything.

    They're the effluvia of a deranged mind.

    It's uncalled for to assassinate somebody's character like thatno


    I think you are wildly premature on Glenn Beck... read this:


    This is someone who spots all the fault lines... even the Jewish ones.

    This is the perfect time for someone like Glenn Beck, he knows it... In a horrible way he is a genius, someone who was waiting to happen... he doesn't need Fox he needs America's mood and it is his.


    Anything is possible, but if Beck amasses an audience anywhere near as large as he had at Fox, I'll be shocked.

    They will find him... he is the "better mouse trap"....

    "Anything is possible, but if Beck amasses an audience anywhere near as large as he had at Fox, I'll be shocked."   -Genghis

    It's not about audience or numbers. The reason people were blind-sided by the tea party is that it has no hard organizational, "countable" form. It's more like a stiff wind from the opposite direction of Obama's socialism. If I understand Beck, his design was foment non-specific, inarticulate action against all that. He might call it spiritual (I suppose the analogy to Howard Beal rings true in that case).... I'm not convinced it's how it appeared though. If not for the "third most listened to" self-adulation at the beginning of each show, I might be. There's potential in everyone though to purely seek out truth like Beal... and be wise enough to follow it through to a reasonable conclusion.   

    Regarding the first link, is it possible he's reacting to heat generated earlier due to  presumed antisemitism? I sense possible damage control... If I were an all-out  conspiracy theorist, I'd think his recent "dethronement" was planned to usher in the new role.

    Regarding the second link, didn't Neil Strauss (NY Times journalist) track the same groups a decade ago and find them on the rise due to very different politics than Obama's? I honestly don't think it ties to left or right as much as to general mistrust.  

    Israeli Zionists are quite ambivalent about an antisemitism, they always have been, obviously more antisemitism leads to more people emigrating to Israel.  Also, the Zionist right wing, would like to pressure progressive or liberal American Jews, who are getting rather lukewarm about Israel of late. Glenn Beck, knows what he is doing and so do they.

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